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Subcontinent looms over Man Booker longlist

Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie  

Hasan Suroor

LONDON: Two first-time novelists from the subcontinent — Aravind Adiga, an Indian journalist, and Mohammed Hanif, a London-based Pakistani broadcaster — will compete with Salman Rushdie and Amitav Ghosh for this year’s Man Booker Prize, giving it a heavy India-Pakistan flavour.

Adiga’s The White Tiger takes a hard look at the underbelly of India’s economic boom. Hanif’s blistering political satire A Case of Exploding Mangoes is about the mysterious air crash that killed Zia-ul-Haq. They are up against Rusdhie’s The Enchantress of Florence and Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies.

The 13-strong longlist, picked from among 112 entries, will be whittled down to six. These finalists’ names will be announced in September. The winner of the £50,000 prize will be declared in October.

Rushdie, who recently won the Best of Booker Prize for Midnight’s Children, was immediately being seen as the bookies’ favourite. Other strong contenders included John Berger, a previous Booker winner, for his novel A to X, hailed as a “hypnotic” love story set against the backdrop of the First World War; and Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, about post-9/11 New York and cricket.

The longlist includes Linda Grant’s The Clothes on their Backs, Michelle de Kretser’s The Lost Dog, Gaynor Arnold’s Girl in a Blue Dress, Sebastian Berry’s The Secret Scripture, Steve Toltz’s A Fraction of the Whole, Philip Hensher’s The Northern Clemency and Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44.

Michael Portillo, the Tory politician-turned-critic and broadcaster who chaired the panel of judges, said the list reflected contemporary trends in literature. He said there was a “notable consensus” among the judges.

“The judges are pleased with the geographical balance of the longlist with writers from Pakistan, India, Australia, Ireland and U.K. We also are happy with the interesting mix of books, five first novels and two novels by former winners. The list covers an extraordinary variety of writing. Still two qualities emerge this year: large scale narrative and the striking use of humour,” he said.

Mr. Portillo described the judging process as “gruelling,” and vowed never to take up such an assignment again.

Other judges included Alex Clark, editor of Granta; Louise Doughty, novelist; James Heneage, founder of Ottakar’s bookshops and Hardeep Singh Kohli, TV and radio broadcaster.

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